Firefighters jump on wildfire near Thompson Creek
A new wildfire erupted around 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the Thompson Creek area west of Carbondale. Firefighters immediately jumped on the blaze, which spread to 120 acres by the evening.
“Our objective is to hammer this fire and keep it from becoming any larger,” said Carbondale fire chief Ron Leach, the incident commander.
The wildfire is burning in the White River National Forest near Thompson Creek, 6.5 miles southwest of Carbondale and approximately 1.5 miles due west from the Spring Gulch cross country ski area in Jerome Park.
“We have 15 members of the Carbondale Volunteer Fire Department making a stand at the Jerome Park Road, so that the fire doesn’t cross the road towards Carbondale,” Leach said Thursday.
“People may smell smoke and ash in and around Carbondale and in the Cattle Creek area, but at this point, no populated areas are in any danger,” he said. “This fire is in the forest.”
The cause of the fire has not been determined.
“We’ll figure out how it started after we put it out,” said Leach.
The town of Carbondale is not threatened, Leach said.
Federal firefighters responded quickly, sending a lead plane, a slurry bomber, a helicopter, a crew of smokejumpers and a fire engine and crew to the blaze.
The slurry bomber made its first drop at 2 p.m., and eight smokejumpers parachuted into the fire area. The helicopter made water bucket drops through the afternoon.
“This work is the reason we’ve been able to keep the fire from growing any larger than it is. This fire has the potential to be large. We’ve been working hard all day to keep it contained,” said Leach.
Fortunately, winds were expected to be light Thursday and into Friday.
“Wind patterns concern us, because they typically blow out of the west,” which could take the fire toward Carbondale, Leach said. “The good news is that we’re not expecting high winds.”
Road closures were ordered Thursday afternoon. County Road 108, known as the Thompson Creek Road, was closed at the junction of County Road 125, 3.8 miles from the corner of Main Street and Highway 133 in Carbondale.
It was there that Jim Sears of the Garfield County Sheriff’s Department intercepted Sue Rodgers, owner of Crystal Springs Ranch, in her white pickup truck.
Rodgers’ home is just a mile from the road closure – and she looked worried. Sears assured her that she was safe, as were the cattle grazing near the fire.
“They’ll cut fence if need be to make sure those cows get out,” Sears told her.
The fire also forced several hunting camps to break and head to town. Livestock owners were also voluntarily evacuating their animals as a precaution in the event the fire grows.
Thursday afternoon, Leach said the fire threatened about five homes on North Thompson Creek. The houses are used seasonally, he said. Currently, they’re not occupied.
“They’re real nice homes, so we’re doing everything we can to protect them,” he said.
On Thursday afternoon, firefighters set up an incident command post at the Carbondale Fire Station, at Meadowood Drive and Highway 133.
Five firefighters stood around a table looking over a topographical map and talking intently, while others answered constantly ringing phones. A television tuned to The Weather Channel gave regional weather reports.
The fire is located in Pitkin County, and Garfield County officials are assisting. Thursday afternoon, Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis and Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri were at the fire’s incident command post at the Carbondale Fire Station.
Leach said that he’s received all the support he has asked for from the federal and local governments.
“Everything we’ve requested we’ve received,” he said.
He hasn’t received enough rain, however. Dry conditions persist, and the forest is still highly fire-prone.
“Although rain showers have been increasing in recent weeks, we still don’t have near enough moisture to make a difference,” he said. “The rains we’ve been receiving the last few weeks have been relatively ineffective. We won’t be saved by the rains this year. Not until it snows are we going to get any relief.”
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